A small matter of 120 years ago, a certain W. Rhodes had a trial with Warwickshire and was rejected. It wasn’t one of the Edgbaston-based club’s better decisions. After Wilfred Rhodes went back to his native Yorkshire, he scored almost 40,000 runs and took over 4000 wickets in a career lasting more than 30 years.
Now another W. Rhodes – Will, not Wilfred – has come from Yorkshire to Warwickshire. He arrives with a more than decent pedigree in that he has worked his way through the Yorkshire age teams and the county Academy as well as playing for England at both under-17 and under-19 level.
The size of Will’s task before him in establishing himself at Warwickshire was highlighted by his April debut for the Bears in the Championship against Sussex. Opening the batting, he managed just 16 runs in two innings and his fast-medium bowling conceded 49 runs in just six wicket-less overs.
Nevertheless, there is no doubting his ability and potential.
When Will spoke to Deep Extra Cover’s Terry Wright, he made clear that his first task is simply to hold on to a place in the side:
“It would be nice to come down here (to Edgbaston) and play as much as I can,” Rhodes said. “After a couple of years when I performed poorly at Yorkshire and wasn’t able to get into the team, I would like to enjoy my cricket. If I can see the side being successful and contribute to games that we win in all formats, that would be fantastic.”
Warwickshire, of course, start the new season in Division Two of the Specsavers County Championship. This presents an obvious challenge, as Will confirms: “There is massive pressure on us to go up in the next couple of years and hopefully we can do it at the first time of asking.
“We’ve got to hit the ground running. If we can pick up a couple of wins and a couple of draws in out first four matches, it will leave us in a good position as we go into the one-day phase of the season.
“You’ve got to accumulate points at this stage of the season. If we don’t win games, we’ve got to make ourselves hard to beat. All good sporting sides have that motto so we need to incorporate that approach into our game.”
A rain-affected draw with Sussex wasn’t the ideal start to Warwickshire’s season at Edgbaston and Will knows that getting wins at home will be difficult.
“Teams come here relishing the challenge and ready for a tough game on all four days. But that’s the kind of cricket we want to play.”
The decision to leave Yorkshire was clearly not an easy one, as Rhodes confirmed:
“It was my childhood club since the age of 10. It’s tough to leave your mates and the people you’ve grown up playing with for 10 or 12 years. But when I met with Troughts [Bears coach Jim Troughton] and Gilo [Director of Sports Ashley Giles], the decision became a no-brainer.
“The facilities here at Edgbaston are fantastic, the size of the club is massive and Edgbaston is such a good ground to play at. It’s one of the grounds you look forward to coming to. Also, I knew a few of the lads here so they gave me some insight.”
Will made the decision to join Warwickshire part way through the 2017 season. But whereas Warwickshire’s other recruits, Adam Hose and Dominic Sibley, were allowed by Somerset and Surrey respectively to move mid-season, Yorkshire were less co-operative, insisting that Will saw out the season with them, even though he was rarely picked to play.
“I was disappointed by that,” admits Will. “Any person in cricket – or any sport – just wants to play. I was no different. For reasons that were outside my control, I had to stay with Yorkshire. But now I’m down here, I’m ready to go.”
Having spent so long in the Yorkshire system, Will must have been influenced by some of the key figures there.
“Yes, there’s Steve Patterson, who comes from Hull, like me. He’s a fantastic bowler.
“And then there’s Ryan Sidebottom. If I can have a quarter of the career he’s had, then I’ll be successful. He’s been a pleasure to work with and share a dressing room with. One of the reasons Yorkshire were successful was that he bowled better than ever towards the end of his time at Yorkshire. And he worked really well with the younger players. The fact that Surrey now have him as a consultant can only be good for them.
“Of course, Ryan left to go to Notts and he told me what a big decision that was and said that I should think long and hard because it would be tough, leaving home and my family, but it would be the right thing to do.
“Ryan’s sent me messages since I moved wishing me good luck.”
Will’s preparations for his first season at Edgbaston started with a spell in Australia with Perth grade team Willetton.
“I’ve been on tours with Yorkshire and England but going out to Perth on my own initiative was all new to me. It was a big step and you mature both as a player and as a person. It was good to test my skills in a different type of cricket and get myself ready for the season.”
When Will returned from Perth, he was faced by an unusual type of pre-season preparation in that Warwickshire had installed a large marquee on the practice area.
“That was strange,” Will admitted. “But it was really good. The surface was fantastic. It was just a bit odd, when the temperature outside was one or two degrees, stepping into the marquee and batting in what seemed like 35 degrees! Hopefully, it will prove to be a good preparation for early season pitches and will give us an edge on counties that have gone abroad and then come back to squares unfit to play on.”
As for Will’s own all-round game (he bats left-handed and bowls a lively right-arm fast-medium), one key question is where in the order he wants to bat. He is keeping his options open:
“I’ll bat where I’m told to,” he says with a smile. “I’ve opened and I’ve batted at six or seven. I’ve not done enough of either to have a real preference.”
The evidence of the Sussex match suggests that Warwickshire view him as filling one of the opening batting slots that have proved problematic for the Bears.
“I’ve done a lot of work with [coach and ex-opener] Ian Westwood on new ball batting,” Will confirms. “So that should hold me in good stead. My strength as a batsman is my positive mindset, always looking to score, even in four-day cricket. As I grew up in Yorkshire, we always looked to take the game forward. I think that’s how you’ve got to play.”
Who knows what the coming season holds for Warwickshire and for Will. With his ability and his positive attitiude, however, there seems no reason why he can’t forge a successful career as a Bear.